Beltane creeps up unnoticed. Not an official holiday in these parts, it is, hopefully, a sign of slightly warmer weather than we’ve been having in April. It’s also the day that I can’t help but think of The Wicker Man. One of the early intelligent horror offerings, it came out 49 years ago. My book on the movie, as far as I know, is still scheduled to come out next year, on its fiftieth anniversary. Watch this space for further announcements. In any case, today I have a piece on The Wicker Tree—the “spiritual sequel” to the movie, appearing on Horror Homeroom. Societies in old Europe tended to celebrate this as the beginning of summer, which explains why Midsummer comes half-way through June. The seasons aren’t always the same in all times and places.
In Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht, which began last night, was a time of concern about witches. Our modern calendar tries to concentrate our fears in late October, but they are appropriate any time of year. These days Beltane’s more of a day when we expect warmer weather to start rolling in and perhaps, especially this year, hopes for peace. May tends to be a hopeful time—it’s a transition. The persistence of our fears suggests that learning to deal with them might well be a good idea. Instead of hiding monsters away, why not face them? The Wicker Tree isn’t a great horror movie, but something holds true for it—the monsters are us. In that film capitalism is the real horror.
What makes The Wicker Man the classic that it is is religion. More specifically, the clash between religions, neither of which is willing to yield. This is largely behind religious violence throughout history, up to the present. Religions convinced that they’re the only possible way to the truth can’t recognize that believers of other religions feel exactly the same way. Yet May is about transitions—one season giving way to another. It’s part of the inexorable change that marks life on this planet. We may not fear witches in the mountains any more, but we still fear what’s out there. Beltane is a hopeful holiday—a day of blessing animals and building fires to encourage the strengthening sun. Instead of making it a day of clashing beliefs, perhaps we should look for our common humanity in it. Perhaps we can learn a deeper lesson from The Wicker Man.